Sylvia Stoudenmire and Catherine
Solomon regularly tidy up Oakdale’s ivy
vines and shrubs. Rolling topography
adds to the character of Oakdale, such
as in sections F and E.
“It’s more than a cemetery,” Williams says. “It’s a garden. It’s a creek that runs through
where a peacock hangs out and people come out to bird watch, ghost walk, study the his-tory.
Schools come out here. It’s the most cherished treasure in this town.”
Over the years, both nature and humans have contributed to reducing the beauty. Small
projects like environmental upgrades, garden and monument restoration and reforestation
as well as new public trails, facilities and a visitor’s center have helped restore Oakdale. But
more improvements are needed.
Funds raised through the campaign will be used for additional repairs and restoration,
environmental preservation, new columbaria and cremation gardens, an endowment to
ensure long-term preservation, and expanded tourism and educational events.
The last item is important to Williams and Oakdale superintendent Eric Kozen, who are
pushing for more public awareness. Ask a younger generation of Wilmington residents their
knowledge on Oakdale, and many respond with the question, “The one at the end of 15th
Street?” Or, “I didn’t know you could walk through there.”
Older generations, many with lineage to the city and cemetery, know that Oakdale is
essentially Wilmington’s history book.
“Old cemeteries are mirrors of the past,” Kozen says. “You can learn a lot of interesting
information, what the traditions were, the families. It’s a snapshot of time, time stands still
in cemeteries. We are a major repository of folks that have done amazing things. People
always ask me, ‘Who are the famous people that are buried here?’ I tell them, it’s all of
them, because we’ve all made some sort of sacrifice to the community we live in.”
Cemeteries are like a storybook and Oakdale has no shortage of chapters. There’s an old
headstone close to the annex bridge with the word “Nance,” barely legible from salt, rain, and
the passage of time. It belongs to a young woman who died at sea. Her father, knowing the
voyage back to Wilmington would be at least five days, tied her to a chair and preserved her
body in a cask of alcohol. Today, she rests beneath the ground of Oakdale, still in the cask.
While Nance is the case of a nondescript grave with a fascinating backstory, many travel
to Oakdale seeking the “famous” plots. Those include Edward Dudley, North Carolina’s
first popularly elected governor; Ruth Faison Shaw, the inventor of finger painting; Henry
Bacon, the Lincoln Memorial architect; and of course, notable Wilmington families like the
Bellamys, MacRaes and Camerons.